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GLIFWC: Worst Wild Rice Crop in Years for North Central Wisconsin

Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission

You might be hard pressed to find some wild rice this fall.

“It may be one of the very worst years I’ve seen in 35 years,” said Peter David, wildlife biologist for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).

David has been doing aerial surveys over wild rice beds throughout the region. He says the only year that might worse is 2010 when there was a disease outbreak.

Crops are particularly bad right now in Iron, Vilas, Oneida, and Forest Counites, which took him a bit by surprise.

Wild rice does best when water levels are on the low side.

Water levels right now are lower than they’ve been in years.

“It’s just been elevated for so long in northcentral Wisconsin that it may take a fairly extended period of drought to get water levels back the level that really produces nice rice abundance,” said David.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Sokaogon Chippewa tribal members set off for the day to harvest wild rice on Rice Lake in 2019.

David says things get a little better as you move farther away.

Parts of Northwestern Wisconsin have some pretty good stands.

Minnesota is having a great crop because of how dry it’s been, but that’s creating other problems.

“It might be enough of an issue in Minnesota that while the sort of drought conditions there have stimulated some great rice crops, harvesting them may actually be a challenge in some places because there may not be enough water to really flow the canoe through the beds,” said David.

David believes the harvest is so bad that majority of the date-regulated waters in northcentral Wisconsin won’t open this year.

For those that aren’t regulated, David is urging harvesters to be patient.

“We always encourage to stay out of those beds until the grain is really good and ripe and mature and ready to be picked. That’s best for the resource and it’s really best for the harvester as well,” he said.

You can learn about wild rice crop quality for a specific waterbody on GLIFWC’s website.

Harvest usually starts around Labor Day.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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